Lowell couldn’t imagine what the beast could possibly want from him so he decided to ignore it. He started up the incline once again, listening to the forest for the tell-tale signs of branches snapping or the general lumbering of a territorial she-bear.
After some time passed, how much he didn’t know or really care, the path grew treacherously steep. Lowell found himself scrabbling along on all fours, pulling himself up the hillside by the thick, exposed tree roots that protruded from the soil like the randomly placed rungs of a ladder. He climbed this way for a long time, his flashlight swinging by its loop around his neck, before he realized two things: he’d brought along a flask of whiskey but no water and that he was no longer traveling along the official park trail but had, somehow, gotten off track.
“Damn raccoon,” Lowell said aloud, between sharp intakes of breath. He’d decided it was the raccoon, and its strange, furtive pursuit, that had flustered him into leaving the trail and climbing like an idiot straight up the mountainside. This flustering happened to him at work, also—one of his co-workers would annoy him somehow, with an interrupting sentence or even a weird look, and then he’d find himself staring blankly up into the office’s florescent lights, wondering what exactly he’d been talking about a moment before while a muddled feeling of rage crashed along the back of his mind.
Weary of climbing, his entire front now covered in dirt, Lowell was about to give up and head back down when he arrived at a flat patch of hillside that looked as if it had been purposely stamped into the mountain for weary travelers like himself. He pulled his aching body up and over onto the flat piece of land, which was covered in the thick blanket of lush grass that felt cool and soft to the touch, and rolled onto his back to drink in lungfuls of clean air.
Above, stars filled the night sky, nearly equaling the darkness that surrounded them.